The media coverage of the Catholic (both the mainstream media and unfortunately many Catholic outlets) is often superficial if not downright inaccurate. Even more recent than the synod has been the reporting of Pope Francis’ remarks supporting evolution this week to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Pope Francis made his speech during a ceremony honoring Pope Benedict XVI for continuing to promote the harmony of science and faith. The remarks made by Pope Francis were consistent with statements made by his predecessors and Catholic theologians.
In other words, there was nothing new, but the media reported it as a significant event. Lazer Berman of The Times of Israel has one of the better articles on the subject. I encourage you to read the entire article here but set forth below is an excerpt:
Francis’s remarks were covered breathlessly in the media, but the coverage has not reflected that they are solidly consistent with previous Church teachings.
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“We run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything,” he said, arguing against young earth creationism. “But that is not so.”
But Francis emphasized that the world was not created from chaos by chance, but “derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love.”
“The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
Francis emphasized the potential scientific inquiry holds to discover God and his plan: “Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the Earth, and of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature. But, at the same time, the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realize, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the creator.”
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Jesuit priest scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was influential in opening Catholic thinking to natural sciences, wrote extensively on the theology of evolution, Staron pointed out, speculating that spiritual development could be as much a part of human evolution as the development of the human mind — in other words, evolution consciously reflecting upon itself, moving the world into union with God.
The official position of the Catholic Church has been very clear, emphasized Murray Watson, cofounder of the Center for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim learning at Ontario’s Western University: Catholicism does not see an inherent contradiction between faith and any of the several leading theories of evolution, as long as those theories can allow room for a number of beliefs. First, that God is the ultimate source of evolution. Second, that God is ultimately guiding the process, even if indirectly through the laws of nature. And finally, that the human soul is God’s direct creation, not a random result of evolution.
“In that sense, all that the Catholic Church asks is that science limit itself to answer questions within its own purview, and not venture into the areas of philosophy and theology,” said Watson. “It isn’t the role of religion to pass judgement on scientific theories, but the Church wants to ensure that scientists don’t — accidentally or otherwise — stray into territory which is beyond the ability of the scientific paradigm to investigate, such as the existence of God, and/or the possibility of God’s having created the cosmos.”